Wednesday, May 18, 2016
When Access to Civil Counsel Becomes a Fundamental Right
As reported by John Pollock of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in L.B. v. Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court recently ruled that parents have a due process right to counsel when seeking modification or termination of a guardianship of their children, provided that the parent "make a modest yet meaningful preliminary showing that he or she has a colorable case” for removal or modification. This case was a followup to Guardianship of V.V., which recognized the constitutional right to counsel for establishment of such guardianships. The NCCRC provided assistance to the petitioner and amici in both V.V. and L.B.
The decision expands the rights of parents to legal representation beyond cases of termination of parental rights or the appointment of a non-parent guardian. The decision establishes the right to counsel when the parent seeks to change an existing guardianship, revisiting the possibibilty of the restoration of full parental rights or at least a modification of an exisitng guardianship. The case sets out parameters for demonstrating the need for counsel and suggests specific guidelines for the lower court to consider to make the process of demonstrating need for counsel easier than what the Probate and Family Court had suggested.
The case advances the rights of litigants to appointed counsel in areas that have significant impact on their human rights and those of their families.
For more information on the case, read here.